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Posted in: January 6

Les, thank you for articulating your thoughts with more respect in a later comment. I didn't find myself resonating with the original post and came to the comments to see what differing perspectives were offered. I was disappointed to find your sarcastic and dismissive comment. I hope you will delete the comment above as I don't think it reflects well on the mutual respect that God creates between us in Christ. I've also flagged the comment for review for these reasons.

The guiding principle quoted in the article is not the one endorsed by Synod, at least not according to my records as a delegate. I don't know the details of who changed what and when before the principle got to the Synod floor, but the approved principle reads this way:

"All baptized members who come with age- and ability-appropriate faith in Jesus Christ are welcome to the Lord's Table and called to obey the scriptural commands about participation (e.g. to 'examine themselves,' to 'discern the body,' to 'proclaim the Lord's death,' to 'wait for others') in an age- and ability-appropriate way, under the supervision of the elders. The elders have responsibility to nurture in the congregation grateful and obedient participation through encouragement, instruction and accountability."

Three additional statements about profession of faith were added also to help clarify that principle.

The approved principle is similar to the one in the agenda, but contains some noticeable differences: the mention of "faith in Jesus Christ" (a critical requirement, according to Reformed theology), the examples of commands to be obeyed (which help clarify), and the expanded clarification regarding profession of faith (which also help clarify).

Housing expense or not, we were always able to write off all our pet expenses as charitable contributions because our cat told us the money spent on her counted as tithing...

Should we use the church as institute as a platform for telling the truth in political discussions as Mrs. Kooyman suggests? The best wisdom seems to be to affirm:

(1) that the church as organism is called to Godly political advocacy, and
(2) that the church as institute ought to restrict its official proclamations to the gospel, not pretending to speak authoritatively in areas that are outside her realm of sovereignty and expertise.

To quote Abraham Kuper: "... the government has to judge and to decide independently. Not as an appendix to the Church [as institute], nor as its pupil... both Church and State must, each in their own sphere, obey God and serve His honor."

For example, the call to pursue justice and mercy in gratitude for God's justice and mercy is found in scripture, is part of the gospel, and is therefore something the church should proclaim. Whether using non-hybrid seeds is the best way to engage in this pursuit is outside of the institutional church's area of expertise. Drawing these distinctions is not always easy, but the difficultly of doing so shouldn't lead us to give up and encourage the institutional church to say whatever seems good.

The church as institution is not called broadly to proclaim the truth (but the church as organism is). Rather, the church as institution is called narrowly to proclaim the truth of the gospel.


Nick Monsma on October 14, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

My hope for the new Psalter would be that one setting for each Psalm would be as close as possible to the text -- that is, an actual (easily singable) musical setting of the Psalm (or of several of its verses), not just a song based on the ideas in the Psalm. I would find that very useful for worship. Adaptations and interpretations of Psalms are fine, but for those who believe that Psalmody is an important part of Biblical worship, being able to sing the text of the Psalms is key.

The same would go for the Psalm settings in LUYH, but I understand that there are many other competing priorities for those editing a comprehensive hymnal.


I've wanted something similar in the past, wishing that there was a blog-like forum for discussing CRC-related issues. I haven't subscribed to CRC-Voices because it seems like a very "old-fashioned" way of online discussion. I don't want to be bothered with emails (Dave mentioned some means of viewing messages without subscribing, but from the Yahoo page, it isn't at all obvious how to do that.) A blog is, arguably, a much better system for online discussion.

It occurs to me, however, that THIS is that forum we're looking for. The Network is a discussion-board/blog/forum platform to discuss things important to the CRC.

Let's just hope that some of the CRC-Voices crowd migrates over here. Spread the word about the Network!

In our tradition, membership is absolutely the responsibility of the individual. The Belgic Confession even says so: "all people are obliged to join and unite with the [church]" (Art. 28). But it is also the responsibility of the officers of the church: e.g., "excommunication, with all it involves... is required." (Art. 32). The question is, of course, whether "paper" membership is all that important. Do we really have to keep books of names and dates?

You're both right that many people don't value "paper" membership much anymore. I think Mark is right that people are skeptical of it because it seems to have little value -- you can be active and committed to the church without having your name written down in the council's book, right? And what about all those people who do have their names written down, but who are inactive within the body?

But this is exactly why the church must be counter-cultural by requiring documents for membership -- because without them, we would have nothing to say about those who no longer act like members of the body, except, "Well, they used to worship here." With paper membership, we can at least say, "They are not acting in line with their commitment to the body as a member of this church," and we can point them to a record of this commitment. If their membership in the body has at its earthly foundation only a subjective commitment voiced and practiced when they join, what happens when that subjective feeling of commitment fades? Have they ceased being members? Paper membership allows us to express the truth of Q&A 54 of the Heidelberg: "And of this community I am and always will be a living member." And it allows us to hold people accountable to that.

It's clear that "paper" membership has been misused and ignored by both councils and members of the body. But this is no reason to get rid of or radically transform the process. We need to be transformed. People are plenty accustomed today to being "members" of something or another. (Facebook, a local recreational club, etc.) What we need to do, both as the leaders and the members, is to be reminded that membership in the church is much more significant than these -- it is a life-long commitment. We often talk about how foolish it is for a man and a woman to live together and start a family without getting married because of the damage that is caused if there is a break-up -- damage which is much worse without the institution of marriage to help adjudicate claims. Isn't joining a church without "tying the knot" of official membership just as foolish? What we need is not a looser institution of church membership, but a stronger one.

And by the way, his name is spelled "Monsma." No 't'. I'm not related, but I felt like I had to correct it. ;)

There's no reason that the argument for paper membership must come from scripture. We've always maintained that not all of the details of church order are given to us in scripture.

The question is not whether it is dictated by scripture, but whether paper membership is the best way (or a very good way) to put into practice the biblical truth about the seriousness of membership in and commitment to the body. Should a member's covenantal commitment to the body of Christ be sealed with a paper record of some sort? The long tradition of Western jurisprudence certainly suggests that paper records are wise "sacraments" of covenants. (Perhaps there are other traditions that would offer us some other solid paradigm...) I'm hesitant to think that a few anecdotes about churches that got along fine without them are enough to overturn this ancient wisdom -- especially when it comes to the most important commitment a person can make.

I see more clearly now what you were asking. In fact, I think an answer to the question you asked can help do what I would like to see: strengthen the institution of church membership and our commitment to it.

The practice of giving a "record of membership" of some sort to the person moving prior to the move does seem to have some strengths. If nothing else, it reminds the church member of the significance of membership.

I can think of two concerns:

1) Often, people take a substantial amount of time to settle into a church community. Would they fail to receive the pastoral guidance to settle in and commit to a specific congregation under this new system? Under the current system, the council of the previous church would (ideally) keep in contact with them (and bug them after a bit so they can tidy up the membership rolls). But if the member is removed from membership and given a record of membership prior to the move, they would have no one bugging them about settling down. They might appreciate that, but I'm not sure it is the best practice.

I'll suggest a solution to this one: perhaps they could be given a record of membership when they leave, but would remain official members of the former church until the usual membership transfer process was enacted (a kind of both-and with respect to these the different membership transfer procedures mentioned in your question). This assumes that they would transfer to another church with our kind of polity. In a neat and tidy world, this would probably be a good practice. But in the actual world...

2) The answer to your question applies really well to geographical moves. But would it be an improvement when people are restless in their current congregation and begin "church shopping"?

"Church shopping" is, of course, largely spurred on by post-denominational and consumer-oriented cultural trends, and I suppose part of answering your question would require us to evaluate those trends. Are they purely problematic when it comes to commitment to a congregation? And if they are, does this mean the institutional church should have, in its polity, a zero-tolerance policy toward such evils? Or should we accommodate? Perhaps a bit of accommodation can be combined with a strong stand against these things. A carefully crafted system could take a step toward where people are in order to bring them to a better place.

Nick Monsma on June 7, 2010

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)


Your reasoning sounds exactly right to me. We have to make distinctions between the (institutional) church's work and the work of other institutions, whether we are talking about our financial support of or our work in those institutions. The same goes for the school confusing its role with the role of parents and so on. Society may be a messy place where the school or the church or the family or the food pantry or the whatever may fail to do its job well, but having other institutions try to fill that void by adding more tasks to their plates is not a good long-term solution.

So, we agree that a family shouldn't replace their support of the institutional church with their support of the school. However, is it okay to think of tithing as the charitable support of the kingdom (church, school, and other charities), rather than just charitable support of the institutional church? If tithing is the charitable support of the kingdom, then it would be everybody's obligation always to support church, school, and other charities to the best of their ability.

Here are some things we've done: We have repositioned the font so that it is visually in line with the table and the pulpit. (It might sound trivial, but the next week I received a comment from someone who said, "I noticed that it was there." That's a start!) We've also filled the font with water for professions of faith, and mentioned baptism at funerals. I also try to stand next to the font at appropriate points in the worship services.

However, in our zeal to remind believers of their baptismal identities, we should take care that we aren't trying to flatten out the topography by implying that everyone must have the same powerful sense that a few have. It is perfectly appropriate for baptism to be a different reality for the adult-baptized and the infant-baptized. One of the things that baptism signifies is regeneration and conversion (dying and rising). And so, many who were baptized as adults remember conversion as a sudden moment -- and their baptism is an equally acute memory. And many who were baptized as infants remember conversion as a gradual work of the Holy Spirit throughout their childhood -- and their baptism is but a photo in an album. (It is for this reason that I would suggest that it is not a problem at all if you cannot remember your infant baptisms -- neither can many of those baptized as infants remember their conversions.) There are, of course, many times when this kind of match doesn't occur -- the person baptized as an infant who has a powerful conversion experience in her late 20s, for example. But a diversity of conversion experiences is appropriately signed and sealed by God in a diversity of baptismal experiences, and our reminders of baptism should encourage different people to "remember baptism" in this diversity of ways.

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